Literary classism


One time I wrote a piece inspired by David Foster Wallace. It was unconventional, not really a narrative, hard to classify. I didn’t think it was genius or anything, but I enjoyed it. I got some scathing criticism from an individual who focused very much on the rules it was breaking. When I mentioned that I was learning from DFW’s example, the critiquer said, “Yeah, well, you’re not DFW.”

Now look, I know I’m not even in the same galaxy as Wallace, and I know my experiments will not be received the same as someone whose skill is established and trusted. That’s reasonable. But this critiquer’s argument was basically, “Don’t even try.”


This is the literary version of classism. That’s their rank, this is your rank, stay put. But how can we improve if we don’t practice? How can we learn from others if we don’t take a whirl at their style? Maybe you won’t do it well at first, but doing it is how you get better. This critiquer’s attitude was that there are authors in the VIP club and no one else should even bother trying to get in.

Knowing the rules is smart. Sharing your knowledge with others in order to help them is great. But I have encountered more than one writer who has enjoyed waggling their finger a little too much. Writers who have looked down their noses at the newbies or the ones trying something different. They like spouting rules at people because it makes them feel more informed, and therefore better. They wear their rules as a status symbol, one that lets them declare, “I know more than you.”

Should you learn the rules before you go breaking them willy-nilly? Sure. Will you have an easier time getting published if you prove yourself first? Probably. Does that mean don’t even attempt coloring outside the lines unless you’re the reincarnation of DFW himself? Nope nope nope.

If you write exactly how you’re supposed to every time, that’s not art. That’s a math formula.


17 thoughts on “Literary classism

  1. I really dislike saying that someone is flat out wrong because I like understanding many points of view…but this person was flat out wrong. I’ve had the wonderful privilege of talking with many established poets and authors and all of them, in one way or another say that the rules are guidelines to create fantastic literature. You can’t let them hold you back, but rather use them as support. They warned that the opposite side of the coin is assuming all literature that adheres to the rules must be great literature, which is almost certainly not the case.

    I’m rambling and going off topics. Oops.

    I’m sorry that this person said this, but they are wrong, and you are awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Personally inrhinknits probably a bit of jealousy on their part because they don’t have the stones to stray from the rules that their English teachers hammered into them and whonalsonputbcertain writers up on to unreachable pedestals.


  3. I know exactly what you mean and I love the pretentious sketch man photo! These people want you to stay in your little bubble of “okay things to do.”
    Heaven forbid you use your creativity and step out of the box in a creative environment to write something new, or worse, better, than the person criticizing you. They’re just jealous of your boldness — Strut your stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How annoying! I hate how brutally critical a world we live in- I think it makes people afraid of trying. Light criticism is fine, but insults and disparaging comments like that are just cruel! And writing is an art and definitely shouldn’t be a formula anyhow! I’ve recently gotten a lot of criticism for some of my stuff on facebook and it really does hurt and is so so so unnecessary! All it does is contribute to people being fearful of expressing themselves!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I believe in writing from my heart as freely as I like. The question is: do you have a message to communicate. How do you communicate it so that your receiver gets it exactly as you want them to get it? I am happy that the critiquer did not succeed to discourage you. We have always to watch out for discouraging messages. You never know when and wherefrom they come.

    Liked by 1 person

Let's chat!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s